Identifying ways to inspire the farmers of the future was the aim of a packed workshop session at the NFU Conference (22 Feb).
The event, which was fronted by Rory Stewart OBE, MP for Penrith and the Border, Tim Farron MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and Jamie Reid for Copeland, allowed delegates to share ideas that might ease the way for new people to come into farming or develop their farming businesses.
In a highly entertaining exchange of ideas, opinions and jokes the following nine issues emerged:
1. Find a mentor for your business – Helen Reid from Norfolk asked a local business to help her with setting up a suckler herd alongside the dairy business she manages. “Having a mentor gives you a valuable sounding board, helps you identify the risks, solve problems and confidence that you are heading in the right direction.”
2. Educating teachers and careers advisers – Whilst a lot of effort is being put in by FACE and industry to help educate schoolchildren the biggest stumbling block to understanding the farming career opportunities are the career advisers, said Harper Adams principal David Llewellyn. They need to be on industry’s radar as well as children and young students.
3. Industry ambassadors to promote farming in schools – 16-year old Harry, a farmer’s son, said that he was unlikely to go into farming because it was never on his school’s radar. ““We had talks and visits from doctors, police and scientists but never any farmers. I have been steered towards everything but farming by my school.”
4. Encourage older farmers to retire – A heart-felt plea came from two young farmers on how to ease the older generation into retirement. The older generation, they said, are finding that they cannot afford to retire due to tax penalties, such as on share farming arrangements. Easing the path to retirement would help the next generation to move forward.
5. Get rid of the jargon – Tory MP Rory Stewart urged young farmers to debunk myths being touted by those who knew less about the countryside than farmers: “There is lot of nonsense, jargon and buzz words that are used to support schemes that are costly and environmentally counter-productive.” He cited the case of Orton Common in his constituency, where over the years various government bodies have put sheep, then cattle, then back to sheep and now back to cattle on the common. The net result is £60,000 spent on fencing, cattle grids and signs with no real case for why cattle should be best in this environment, he said.
6. Community DIY – Whether its broadband access, or salting roads, farmers can play a valuable role in helping the community to deliver these services: “Government shouldn’t say we can’t do it, so you can’t either,” said Mr Stewart.
7. Keeping disease out of British herds – Strict Border Controls and livestock health tests are critical to keeping disease out of British herds and keeping British farming competitive. The issue on Border Controls came from a young farmer recently back from the US where, once the customs officers realised he was a farmer, had his suitcase emptied and disinfected. On his return to the UK he breezed through without any scrutiny.
8. You don’t have to own or rent land to be farmer – James Chapman, ex YFC chairman and 2011 Farmers Weekly Farming Champion pointed out that you didn’t have to be a tenant or farm owner to be a farmer. We should be more positive about embracing share and contracting farming to be farmers.
9. Get involved – Everyone should be involved in Open Farm Sunday, urged Oxford farmer and chairman of the Oxford Farming Conference Mike Gooding: “It is up to everyone in farming to engage with the public to explain the value and benefits that we bring to society.”